Lessons From The Mat

This afternoon I watched three fine young men pour their heart out on the mat in their first-Dan black belt test.  They have studied and trained for years, but never harder or with more intensity than these last few weeks leading up to a grueling 3 1/2 hours.  They demonstrated the material they had learned before five demanding teachers and did their instructors proud.

Many of you know that I have been involved in martial arts for my entire adult life.  I have been a student and a teacher, I have spent time away from class but I always find myself drawn back.  There is an honesty and integrity in the studio, camaraderie and laughter that mingle with the bruises and the sweat.  Some of my best and longest-lasting friendships have been with my martial arts family.

Today I wanted to list some of the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, lessons that everyone would benefit from learning.

Take A Fall

Learning to fall properly is important because in a fight you never know when your opponent could sweep you or knock you down.  If you don’t know what to do, you could get badly hurt by falling wrong.   Also, there’s nothing like finding yourself suddenly on your back to make you look at a problem from a whole new angle!

In life, you sometimes need to react quickly to unexpected events and minimize damage.  If something happens you’re not expecting, you could waste precious time and resources floundering before making decisions to handle it.  The ability to gather information, synthesize and summarize it, and make a tactical decision quickly is a valuable life skill.

Take A Hit

There’s nothing like a quick shot to the nose or the solar plexus to get your attention.  On the mat it’s nothing unusual, if you don’t block right you’re going to get hit.  When practicing in pairs you’re SUPPOSED to let your partner hit you. They aren’t supposed to HURT you but sometimes they hit harder than they mean to, especially the new guys, ha!  Learning to take a hit is part of training.  Unless you’re really hurt or get hit in a dangerous place (like an eye or tender parts farther south) you’re pretty much expected to shake it off and get back to work.

The old advertising slogan “Never let them see you sweat” applies in many aspects of life.  You need to have a bit of mental toughness and the ability to shrug off minor annoyances and distractions to get on with the task at hand.

Girls Belong

It’s always amusing when new boys (and sometimes men, although they should know better) think they’re better than the girls just because they’re girls.  In our school the instructors don’t pay any attention to whether a student is male or female.  The rules and routine are the same, the curriculum is the same, the expectation is the same.  And you know what?  Girls are tough.

I’m very happy with the tone my son’s class takes with the girls.  Which is NO tone.  With all the women’s-rights and equal-opportunity and scholarships and promotion of girls’ and women’s abilities, it almost seems the boys are the second-class citizens now, which is sometimes hard for me as a mom of boys.  What’s the right tone?  I think I like this one:  a complete nonissue.

Respect Your Teachers And Your Traditions

Disrespect is not tolerated.  When Sensei asks a question, the proper response is “Yes, Sensei” or “No, Sensei.”  Pictures of teachers that have come before, scrolls on the walls, antique weapons handed down and displayed prominently, these things are handled with care and protected from flying bodies and other objects.  The equipment is kept clean and in order, one bows before stepping onto the mat, before beginning a sparring match, and at other important times during the class.  There is structure and discipline.

These are reasons many people study and take their children to study martial arts nowadays.  So often we find others are disrespectful and rude.  It’s refreshing to see children stand quietly before their teacher, listen attentively and chorus “No, Sensei” when asked if there are any questions about today’s lesson.  It’s also nice to see them all silently sitting seiza (on their knees Japanese style) after the group has been particularly rambunctious.  Even karate class has time-out!

Never Ever Give Up

There is an old adage in karate is that a black belt is just a white belt who never gave up.  Much of martial arts is difficult.  The training can be uncomfortable, some new skills are harder than others to learn, and it comes more easily to some students than others.  But you definitely won’t get there if you quit.

Everyone wants to give up at some point.  Maybe your marriage isn’t what you wish it were, your job is frustrating, you have an illness that is tough to manage.  It sometimes seems it would be easier to lie there on your back and let life pound you.  But you won’t get what you want that way.  You have to push it back, roll up to your feet and get back in there to try again.

I salute Nick, Adam and Patrick who took the last and most difficult step on the road to earning their black belts.  I’m proud to know them and to have watched them learn and grow these last few years.  Can’t wait to see what new challenges they tackle next!  I’m pretty sure they know now that, after earning a black belt, they can do anything they choose.  And that’s a pretty awesome lesson too.

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